What to know about the Celtics’ NBA Finals foe in Mavericks 




Celtics

The Celtics’ defense will have their hands full against Dallas’ talented backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic.

Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving are set to battle in the NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The 2024 NBA Finals is finally set. 

And if Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the Celtics want to lift Banner 18 to the rafters next month, they’re going to have to go through Kyrie Irving and the Dallas Mavericks. 

After Boston punched its ticket to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years following a sweep against the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, Dallas took care of business in the Western Conference Finals — with the fifth-seeded Mavs besting the Timberwolves in five games.

The NBA Finals won’t officially tip off in TD Garden until June 6, but here is a preview of what awaits Boston with a championship on the line against Dallas. 

A familiar foe 

There will be no shortage of compelling storylines to parse through now that the 2024 NBA Finals are set.

There’s Tatum and Brown’s latest attempt at securing that sought-after ring, Kristaps Porzingis’s health and a matchup against his former team, and Luka Doncic’s first trip to the NBA Finals.

But all narratives and arcs are poised to take a backseat to the expected drama of Kyrie Irving and his return to Causeway Street. 

In a city where there has been no shortage of sports villains to focus one’s fury on, Irving stands as arguably the top conduit of criticism in recent memory. 

Once viewed as a franchise savior during his time in Celtics green, the uber-skilled guard quickly turned into the bane of Boston sports fans’ collective psyche — putting the team’s future in peril with his white-flag performance against the Bucks in the 2019 playoffs before walking in free agency.

Irving embraced a heel persona during his bouts against Boston while playing for the Nets, with two playoff meetings in 2021 and 2022 that featured the guard stomping on the Celtics mascot’s face on the parquet floor, throwing the bird to fans, and other run-ins at TD Garden.

Boston has managed to get the better of Irving as of late; the Celtics have won their last 10 games against Irving during his time with both Brooklyn and Dallas.

But Irving will be looking to get the last laugh on basketball’s highest stage against Boston, with the Celtics set to be tested against one of the most dynamic scorers and ball handlers in league history. 

“A lot of the attention is on me, in terms of just the fandom,” Irving said after Boston’s 138-110 win over Dallas on March 2. “It’s been six years. You gotta love it. But rightfully so. They have a right to boo. From my career record against them the last few games, I haven’t won. Until I beat them, they have all the right to continue to boo. I think that’s what makes the theatrics of sports and competitive sports fun. Just gotta embrace it. It’s part of it.”

Luka Donic is the engine that makes Dallas go

Irving’s return to Boston is certainly the juiciest plotline worth following in the NBA Finals. 

But as daunting as slowing down Irving might be, the Celtics’ toughest test in this series will be accounting for the other weapon in Dallas’ backcourt in Luka Doncic. 

Doncic might be the best pure offensive threat in the league at this stage of his career, with the 25-year-old guard scoring a league-best 33.9 points per game during the regular season while also averaging 9.2 rebounds and 9.8 assists per contest. 

He’s followed that up with a dominant postseason (eight playoff games with 30+ points), with the Slovenian routinely making life miserable for defenses in crunch time — especially when trading possessions next to another elite isolation player in Irving. 

Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics will have plenty of time to try and craft a game plan designed to slow down Doncic. But that’s a task easier said than done, given that Doncic has the means to finish at the rim, sink shots from beyond the arc, and carve up teams by finding the open man across the court. 

Dallas has been one of the best teams since the trade deadline 

The Mavericks can go toe-to-toe with just about any team when both Doncic and Irving are producing offensively. 

But Dallas’ surge through a daunting Western Conference field isn’t exactly a surprise — at least not if you’ve been following them since the trade deadline. 

Right before the deadline on Feb. 8, the Mavericks added a dynamic forward in P.J. Washington, sending away Grant Williams, Seth Curry, and a 2027 first-round pick to pry him out of Charlotte. Dallas also added big man Daniel Gafford from Washington in a deal involving Richaun Holmes and a 2024 first-round pick. 

After swinging those deals, Dallas posted a record of 21-9 down the final stretch of the regular season — with Washington and Gafford filling out a supporting cast designed to win battles in the paint, throw down lobs, haul down offensive rebounds and cash in on the looks generated by Doncic and Irving. 

Doncic and Irving might be the reason that the Mavericks gut out wins in crunch time, but it’s the work of high-motor players like Washington, Gafford, Derrick Jones Jr., and Dereck Lively that allow Dallas to always remain within striking distance over 48 minutes.

Don’t sleep on Dallas’ defensive game

The Mavericks’ success might be heavily attributed to their backcourt, but Dallas has also molded into a stout defensive unit over the last few months, especially in the paint.

With Lively and Gafford guarding the hoop, the Mavericks have forced teams into the NBA’s lowest shooting percentage at the rim (62.0 percent) since the trade deadline, per Tim Cato of The Athletic.

Add in Washington and Jones’ ability to defend wings thanks to their length and athleticism, and the Celtics will need to adapt on the fly when it comes to generating quality looks, with Boston’s emphasis on shots from beyond the arc standing as a strong counter to Dallas’ rim protection.





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